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Loux not going to resign right away

Nevada officials concerned that office remains strong as Yucca fight enters next stage

Updated Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008 | 3:33 p.m.

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CARSON CITY – The leader of Nevada’s fight against the Yucca Mountain project says he’s not going to decide immediately whether to resign, as Gov. Jim Gibbons requested on Wednesday.

Robert Loux, director of the Agency for Nuclear Projects, is under fire for giving himself and his five staff members pay raises above those authorized by the Legislature.

Loux has headed the nuclear projects office since its creation in 1985.

He said he wants to first talk to the Commission for Nuclear Projects, for whom he works. The position is appointed by the governor but serves at the pleasure of the commission.

Commission Chairman former Senator-Governor Dick Bryan said the commission will discuss the case at its Sept. 23 meeting. Bryan says Loux made a serious error but doesn’t think he should resign.

This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that the commission should consider Loux’s years of service as it assesses the situation.

“Obviously, Bob Loux has done a great job on behalf of the state, he’s devoted a large chunk of his life to fighting the dump,” said Reid spokesman Jon Summers. The senator “hopes the commission takes that all into account as it weighs its decisions. And whatever decision it makes, he’ll support.”

Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, also a Democrat, said that while the alleged violations are “extremely serious,” the state’s ability to continue fighting Yucca Mountain should also be part of the commission's decision.

“They have to weigh these allegations along with his very distinguished record over the year in fighting Yucca Mountain, and ensure that our fight against Yucca Mountain does not lose one step,” the speaker said.

But former Gov. Bob Miller, a Democrat who fought the Yucca Mountain project for most of the 1990s, said “no individual is indispensable” in the state’s ongoing battle. “In times of economic constraints, if you don’t play by the rules you’re subject to these types of ramifications,” Miller said.

A spokesman for Republican Rep. Jon Porter said whether Loux remains in office is for the state to resolve. “The governor will handle it as he sees fit,” said Porter’s chief of staff Phil Speight.

Gibbons’ office handed out research showing Loux earning $151,542 this fiscal year or 32 percent above the authorized $114,088. Gibbons’ office said Loux has been giving himself and his staff extra raises for at least the last four years.

When the nuclear project office was created in 1985, Loux was named the director by Bryan who was then governor. And he was reappointed by Govs. Bob Miller, Kenny Guinn and Gibbons.

Loux said today that it would “not be productive” to comment before he has a chance to discuss the issue with his commission.

He told the Legislative Interim Finance Commission he gave himself and his staff extra money because they were doing 10-15 percent more work because of the absence of one of his employees. His staff consisted of five workers. He admitted it was an error.

For the past four years, he has earned more than other directors of state agencies with far larger numbers of workers and programs.

Josh Hicks, chief of staff to Gibbons, said the budget office is checking to see if the higher-than-authorized salaries extended past four years.

The salary of Loux and his staff have been returned to the amount authorized by the Legislature.

Many current and former elected officials insist the state agency Loux heads must remain strong as the Yucca Mountain fight enters the next crucial phase. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced this week it would begin reviewing the project's application, bringing the project closer than ever to reality.

Bryan said "the greater danger is the pro-nuke crowd will seize upon this as an opportunity to end that office ... If the office were lost, it would be a horrible blow."

But Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign believes the agency’s future is a matter for the state to decide.

“At the federal level, we’re committed to our fight,” Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola said. “How the state wants to move forward is at the state level.”

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